Lazy journalists (and some lazy activists) have an annoying habit I call the “Condemnation Derby”. It goes like this.
Every day, some people do things to which we might reasonably object. For example, tomorrow it might be:
(1) The Mayor of a city in Faroffistan had his thugs smash the printing presses of the town paper!
(2) A Senator who has long crusaded against drugs was photographed using cocaine!
(3) A Hollywood star slapped a waiter while calling him/her an ethnic slur!
(4) During a “hot mike” moment, a Congressman was heard calling his assistant “sugar tits”!
(5) Donald Trump tweeted (fill in here whatever awful tweet he did in the past 24 hours)!
Armed with such a list, the journalist starts ambush interviewing politicians, asking “Do you condemn [Insert here any of the above five]”. The politician may very well not even have heard of the incident at all. Maybe he or she will condemn in strong terms anyway. But if the politician doesn’t, the list gains a new item:
(6) Congressman/Senator/Mayor So-and-So REFUSED TO CONDEMN/DIDN’T CONDEMN STRONGLY ENOUGH (fill in any of #1-5 here)
The journalist can now ask the next person not only if they condemn #1-5, but also whether they condemn the politician who refused to condemn. And if they don’t condemn both, they become item #7. When these stories get traction as they sometimes do (particularly if activists play along), they evolve into “Even a week after (item here), Representative Smith STILL HASN’T CONDEMNED…”
Beyond being lazy, there are two problems with this type of journalism.
First, moral condemnation by public figures can still make a difference, but only if it used sparingly. When ever office holder is constantly being dragooned into condemning everything, it gives an out to someone who truly deserves condemnation “Yes, my pro-lynching comments were criticized, but so was last night’s lame joke on Will and Grace”.
Second, the act of condemnation by politicians often amounts to cheap grace. Our political leaders have power, with which comes responsibility to more than furrow a brow, express grave concern, frown angrily, chastise one’s colleague etc. We should care a lot less about whether officeholders mouth words of condemnation regarding things we don’t like and a lot more about whether they pass laws to make such things less prevalent.